S2 #5: How to Optimize Your Sales Funnel To Reach the Right People with Sarah Bennight:

Sarah Bennight is Director of Product Marketing at Stericycle Communications Solutions. At HITMC this year, she won the Health IT Marketer of the year award, and the fangirl in me has been eager to interview her and learn her best kept secrets.

On this episode we talk about everything from optimized sales funnels to buyer personas to tips for supercharging small marketing departments. So join us as we delve a little deeper into digital health marketing.


Sarah has been in the Health IT industry for 10 years now. After spending many years as a fulltime mom, she found that she had a bit of a gap on her resume. However, a colleague took a chance on her anyway and hired her as a product specialist. During her time at this meditech integration shop, she learned the ins and outs of EHR, integration, and interoperability.

Then her role started shifting to product management which, interestingly, has a lot of crossover with product marketing. Both rely on competitive analysis, market share, and how you position your product. Because of this overlap, her career evolved into a marketing director position.

For a long time, Sarah had wanted to be patient-facing with her marketing, but most of her positions had her working on the back end of EHR. When she came on at Stericycle, her dream finally came true, and for the last 3 years she’s been focusing strategic messaging towards patients everyday.

Specifically, Stericycle helps run call centers for hospitals and medical centers. They effectively unify all health communications to one phone number. Regardless of who a patient needs to see, - primary care, obstetricians, pediatrics, you name it - patients can reach them through this call center.

Stericycle makes it easy for patients to get the care they need whether it be talking to a nurse after hours or scheduling an appointment. And Sarah gets to be an integral part of this by focusing her marketing efforts towards patients.

Sarah Bennight

What does it mean to optimize funnel content?

By funnel content, Sarah’s referring to the three stages of a buyer journey - awareness, consideration, and decision. In general, the top of the funnel has more people in it, but the more you go into the funnel, the more you narrow down to really good prospects.

It’s important to optimize these channels because many times there can be gaps in the content that leads to buyer dropoff. This is a problem because funnels are supposed to weed out those who aren’t the right customers, not remove those who are the right fit.

Simplifying the process

If you’re like most health tech startups, your marketing department is small or virtually non-existent, and that’s ok. Sarah offered some overall tips that can get any size marketing on the right track.

  1. Discover what content you already have.

  2. Build out a buyer persona.

  3. Map your content onto the buyer journey.

Throughout the episode, she gave practical advice for applying these steps, and that’s where we’re going to focus our attention for the majority of this article.

Discover what content you already have

Most startups need to see results right now. However, the reality is that marketing often takes a lot of time, and often bosses aren’t keen on using limited staff to develop time-consuming content.

Sarah has a way around this. When she first started at Stericycle, she sat down and created a spreadsheet with tabs for the top of the funnel, the middle, and the bottom. For anyone who’s interested, she’s willing to share this spreadsheet to get you started. Just contact her via Twitter or LinkedIn.

In creating this spreadsheet, what she wanted to discover was how much content was available to her without building anything new. Most companies actually have content they can build off of such as white papers, saving them time and resources in the long run. In Sarah’s situation, that’s exactly what she found.

But she also found a whole lot of gaps in the content. For instance, the top of the funnel had very little material. This is where content hacking comes in (or as we call it at The Mission Maven, the Circle of Content).

For instance, you can take something like a white paper and build it into content that reaches the top level of your funnel. Here are some possible ways to break down the elements of technical papers into easily digestible forms for potential buyers.

  • Make an infographic using stats from the white paper

  • Turn concepts into easily accessible social media thought leadership

  • Take each major segment of a white paper and turn it into a short, pithy blog post

  • Conduct a video interview with a subject matter expert on this same topic

When you take content you already have and use it in different ways, you can create different materials that reach buyers at different points in their journey.

Build out your buyer persona

Sarah has a client advisory board that helps her team understand and communicate with customers. But even if you don’t have this helpful resource, you can still learn by listening to your target audience. In fact, listening to the voice of the customer is the #1 thing you can do to improve your marketing strategy.

Start by asking your sales department what led a customer to buy your product. What were they struggling with? Why was your company better positioned to solve their problem?

Sarah has also found that many customers are very willing to give information. In fact, they’re often very eager to help and be involved. They like to talk about their challenges and where they need to be five years from now. All of this is valuable information that can help you build out a specific buyer persona.

Here’s how you can practically do this. Contact your top five clients and ask to talk to five people within the company. Communicate that you want to understand what’s important to them, what helped them make the buying decision, and what work frustrations keep them up at night.

Another helpful asset for creating your buyer persona is to look at your competition. In other words, who are you losing deals to and why? More specifically, what questions and concerns does your buyer have that your rivals are answering better? And how can you rejoin the conversation in a way that answers the true concerns your customer really has?

Map your content onto the buyer journey

Knowing where your content fits into your funnel is vital for seamlessly educating and convincing buyers that your solution is right for them.

At the top of your funnel, people gain a sense of trust and confidence that you understand their problem and have industry knowledge to help them overcome it. Some helpful topics at this stage are lists of symptoms, industry specific information, and thought leadership. The best formats for presenting these topics are blogs, podcasts, educational webinars, and tip sheets.

In the middle of the funnel, you need to communicate why your company is special. What sets you apart? Can you really solve your buyers’ problem? Why should customers come on board? Helpful styles of content at this stage in the buyer journey are comparison charts, buyer guides, case studies, and checklists.

When your potential buyers get to the end of the funnel, they’re already primed to make a decision. They may have brought in other decision makers, especially if you’re in an enterprise market. They’re wondering about things like security and compliance. Plus, they’re asking things like, Can you integrate with EHR? What will it cost? And what other clients do you have? At this stage in the buyer journey, they’re looking for references, demos, and free trials.

So take the content that you know you already have, and map it onto these specific parts of the buyer journey. Chances are that you’ll see a lot of gaps, but that’s ok. Remember, you can use the Circle of Content to repurpose and revive other forms of content.

What do people get wrong when using a sales funnel?

According to Sarah, the top thing that people get wrong is to cast too wide of a net. Because they’re marketing budget is small, they’re short staffed, and they’re trying to create a lot of content really fast, they opt to target EVERYBODY. But by targeting everybody, you’re effectively reaching nobody.

Another common mistake Sarah sees is when companies decide what questions their buyers are asking rather than figuring out what concerns their target audience really has. This is why Sarah believes account based marketing works so well. Instead of targeting everyone, you’re honing in on one person. You can customize their journey, build a relationship, and answer the questions they’re actually wondering.

Sarah referenced a time when their marketing department was building a nurture campaign. Initially, they got a list of 44,000 contacts to reach out to, but when they filtered it out by specific topics, they ended up with only 4,000 potential buyers. According to Sarah, this is just one example of how a smaller audience isn’t a bad thing if it means you can write content specifically for these buyers.

Sales funnels at their best

When Sarah’s team was looking to purchase a marketing automation tool, they looked at a solution called Marketo. What amazed Sarah was that the content built on itself based on what the customer previously engaged with.

Then, as you read or downloaded different material, the business development staff reached out via phone call to see if you had any further questions. Based on your answers, they’d ask if they could send you another piece of content.

No matter how you look at it, Marketo has a very effective marketing approach. Any answers they get from the phone call, they can relay back to their marketing team. They know exactly where their buyers are in the funnel without being creepy, and this leads to an even more personalized buyer journey.

In the end, Sarah’s team went with Marketo because they realized that this big company had figured out some marketing strategies that can fuel the learning curve of smaller organizations.

Must-read book

Sarah is a wife, mom, and hardworking professional, yet she still finds a way to squeeze in books. Though not an avid fiction lover, she has a passion for the classics like Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, and anything written by Charles Dickens.

Currently, she’s reading The Power of Moments which has fired her up as a marketer to capitalize on individual memories. This has fueled Stericycle’s marketing strategy to create content based on moments.

She’s also reading a book called The Best Yes by Lisa Terkeurst. The book notes how our culture praises “busyness,” leading us to say no to some of the most important things. Instead, Sarah’s learning that it’s important to say no so she can build margins for things like developing a new hobby, building a business, or investing in activities like yoga.

Thanks for joining us today! And don’t forget to reach out to Sarah with any further followup questions about implementing an effective sales funnel.

Want to connect with Sarah? Find her here:

Twitter: @sarahbennight

LinkedIn: Sarah Bennight

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